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Water and local democracy focus of bill submission

Waikato Regional Council is calling for changes to a new local government bill to help ensure sound water management and protect local democracy.

A submission on the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2) 2016 was today approved by councillors.

The submission says the bill fails to carry forward provisions in current law that encourage handling flooding and water management issues on a whole-of-catchment basis during consideration of local government reorganisations.

“It is not possible to effectively manage water allocation, water quality, flood risk and other catchment issues unless a regional council or unitary authority has the ability to management whole catchments,” the submission says.

“There are many examples internationally of the problems that can arise if more than one jurisdiction has responsibility for management of a major river system.”

Holistic catchment management of water bodies is also a “very important principle” for iwi and Maori and this is reflected in many Treaty settlement arrangements, the submission adds.

Meanwhile, the council called for the retention of current law that says local government reorganisation proposals must have “demonstrable community support”. It disagreed with the bill’s proposal for “the likelihood of significant community opposition” to become the focus of considerations by the Local Government Commission.

It said public polls were useful in helping decide on reorganisation proposals but warned they shouldn’t be the final part of the decision-making process. “Public polls can be strongly influenced by vested interests, it can be difficult ensuring that people fully understand the implications of decisions, and polls may not reflect the needs of future generations.”

Poll results should therefore be considered alongside “any other available evidence of community support”.

The submission also noted extensive efforts underway through the Waikato Mayoral Forum and other steps to improve council service delivery and infrastructure provision in the region.

It said the bill should recognise this type of work and ensure that existing initiatives “are not unnecessarily compromised by changes made through Local Government Commission processes”.

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